Precursor to the USS James B. Eads of Fire on Iron: USS Cairo

Famous photo of the USS Cairo, taken before her sinking by submerged "torpedo"

Famous photo of the USS Cairo, taken before her sinking by submerged “torpedo”

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Readers of my steampunk supernatural suspense novel Fire on Iron know that most of the novel is set aboard a fictional City-class ironclad river gunboat, the USS James B. Eads. What some readers may not be aware of is that one of the James B. Eads‘ “sister ships,” the USS Cairo, is on display at the Vicksburg National Historical Park, located in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Cairo was sunk on December 12, 1862 by a submerged Confederate “torpedo,” or what we would call today a mine. Almost a hundred years later, in 1956, historian Edwin C. Bearss, employed by the Vicksburg National Historical Park, located the wreck, buried in the mud of the Mississippi River.

In 1960, Bearss succeeded in raising various pieces of the wreck, including the Cairo’s armor-plated pilothouse. Four years later, he had succeeded in securing additional funding from the State of Mississippi, and an attempt was made to raise the entire wreck in one piece. However, the three-inch thick cables which were being used to raise the wreck sliced through the ironclad’s wooden hull (Cairo was built of wood and partially plated with 2.5″ thick railroad iron and sections of boiler plate). So the decision was made to allow the cables to slice the gunboat into three sections, each of which was raised separately.

In 1965, the various sections and chunks of the wreck were placed on barges and first towed to Vicksburg, then towed again to a shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where the engines were disassembled, cleaned of rust and mud, and reassembled, and the various other parts of the ironclad were put together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The wooden parts were continuously sprayed with water to keep them from cracking. It took many years for Congress to raise the necessary funds, but in 1977 the wreck, now partially restored, was towed back to the Vicksburg National Historical Park and put on display on a concrete base, next to a small museum, which displayed small artifacts recovered from the wreck (personal belongings of the ironclad’s sailors), and a gift ship which sold Cairo-related books and models. Since then, the old ironclad has been more fully restored and now rests under a protective awning.

I first visited the Cairo back in 1994, when I was writing my first draft of Fire on Iron. While I still lived in New Orleans, I made several pilgrimages to the Vicksburg National Historical Park to visit the only surviving US Navy river gunboat of the Civil War period.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow below of the Cairo in her original glory, being salvaged from the bottom of the Yazoo River, and how she looks today on display.

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Recent Article Linked to by SF Signal and Locus Online

The science fiction website SF Signal has linked to my recent article, “The New Immortality of Authors and Books,” on its Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Links Page for 4/17/14.

SF Signal is a marvelous science fiction, fantasy, and horror website, winner of the 2012-13 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine. The site currently has over 866 pages of content. Current contents include a podcast interview with author Daniel Price, a link to the Functional Nerds podcast, and a link to the new trailer for the upcoming film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, which, if it is anywhere as good as X-Men: First Class was, should be one terrific movie.

The article has also been linked to by Locus Online, “The Website of The Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field” (Locus Magazine has won the Hugo Award for Best Semi-Pro Magazine I think 33 times; they should just call it the Locus Award, but then again, there already exists a Locus Award, so forget that). Locus Online is the best online source for the most recent news in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror fields, and they also include lots of book and movie reviews and author retrospectives. Edited by Mark Kelly, it is invariably a fantastic read, and is worth visiting on a weekly basis. My article was linked to in the Blinks section on the left hand side of the web page for 4/17/14.

Here’s a link to the original article, “The New Immortality of Authors and Books.”

The New Immortality of Authors and Books

Headstone with flowers

I’d like to pose (and attempt to answer) four related questions. When is a relationship dead? When is a writer dead? When is an author dead? When is a book dead?

When is a relationship dead? When one of the two parties who formerly made up the relationship refuses to continue to relate. One party may continue to try. But with only one party making an effort, the relationship is dead.

I’m thinking about this very frequently nowadays. My relationships with my mother and my step-father are dead. They refuse to talk with me. When I was in the hospital for six days, they made no attempt to contact me, nor did they send a get-well card. They were not ignorant; my brother and sister filled them in regarding my distress and situation.

I recently received the news, through my sister, that my step-father is ailing. I asked my oldest son, Levi, if he would like to send his grandfather a get-well card, even though his grandfather no longer sends him letters, cards, or gifts. He said he wanted to send a get-well card, anyway, so I went out and bought one for him, put stamps on it, addressed it for him, and let him fill in the inside with a personal message. I also added a brief message of my own, very simple — “Dad, I hope you feel better soon. Love, Andy.”

By servicing the dead, one services the living. I was servicing the dead, and I was teaching my son to do the same. When we visit a gravestone and place flowers by it (or small pebbles from home, as is a common Jewish custom), we are servicing the dead, but in truth, we are servicing the living — ourselves. We are preserving a sense of connection with the departed and remembering the loving times we spent together. My step-father is dead to me. But by sending him a card with a brief message, I am recalling the years of love we shared, before he decided to cut off our relationship. I am also teaching my son that sometimes it is good and proper to take the effort to send someone something of yourself, even if you cannot expect any response in return.

A writer is no more than a person who writes. The only relationship necessary for writership is that between a writer and his or her work. When is a writer dead? A writer is dead when the person who writes dies.

An author is a writer who has an audience other than him or herself; the audience can be as small as one other person. Authorship is a type of relationship, a three-way relationship: the relationship between the author and his work; the relationship between the author and his reader(s); and the relationship between the author’s work and the reader(s). When is an author dead? An author is dead when all three of those relationships are severed, and they may be severed when only one party in the relationship is failing to maintain the relationship. In the relationship between the author and his work, the author can renounce his work and stop writing. In the relationship between the author and his reader(s), either party can stop sustaining a relationship which has been built. In the relationship between an author’s work and its audience, either the work can go out of print and be discarded from all lending libraries (the work severs the relationship), or the audience can stop reading the work.

When is a book dead? Either when the book is no longer available to persons who might otherwise be its audience, or its existing and potential audiences stop reading it.

The new hybrid forms of writer-publisher and author-publisher means that fewer writers, authors, and books will die. The assurance of publication means a writer will likely continue to write and continue to have a relationship with his work. The availability of social media, blogs, and websites means that an author’s direct relationship with readers need not cease until the author’s death. And the invention of ebooks, which need never go out of print, mean that very few books of lasting worth will ever die, for they will always be available to the readers who are willing to search them out.

I used to be an author; I was a writer with an audience. Now, having lost the majority of my audience, I am once again a writer. But by starting my own small press and publishing my books as both ebooks and physical books, I am taking steps to achieve life after death for me as an author and for my books.

Book Blogger David Myers’ Cancer Has Recurred

Myers_DG

One of my best friends in the blogosphere, books blogger Professor David Myers, has been informed that his cancer has recurred and that he has, at most, two years left. He has written a wonderful, touching, and profound article called “Dying is a 12-Step Program.” I highly recommend it to anyone who has a friend or family member who is dying, who has a fatal illness his or herself, or who is faced with a major life crisis of any sort.

Also, David’s blog, A Commonplace Blog is fabulous, filled with hundreds of fascinating and illuminating articles about books and authors. Here is a link to his review of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. And here is a link to his article “Best American Fiction, 1968-1998,” in which he includes Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (It is listed and commented upon first on a list of 27 outstanding books, mostly literary fiction; it is the only SF book on the list.) Check it out, too.

And please, if and when you visit the blog, send David your best wishes for his recovery. Miracles have been known to happen, and he did manage to temporarily beat his cancer once before.

New MonstraCity Press Website Debuts!

Monstracity Press Logo

I’m very proud to announce the debut of the new MonstraCity Press website! The website includes all of MonstraCity Press’ publishing plans through August of 2016, including the continuations of the Fat White Vampire series and the August Micholson Chronicles (the series that begins with Fire on Iron).

Here are the upcoming Fat White Vampire titles:
Fat White Vampire Otaku, (Jules Duchon #3), May, 2014
Hunt the Fat White Vampire, (Jules Duchon #4), February, 2015
Ghost of the Fat White Vampire, (Jules Duchon #5), November, 2015
Fat White Vampire Rehab, (Jules Duchon #6), May, 2016

Here’s a tie-in book that takes place in Jules Duchon’s New Orleans contemporaneously with the catastrophic events of Fat White Vampire Otaku and which explains the origin of Hurricane Antonia (the fictional counterpart of Hurricane Katrina):
The Bad Luck Spirits’ Social Aid and Pleasure Club, November, 2014

Here are the upcoming August Micholson Chronicles titles:
Hellfire and Damnation, (August Micholson #2), August, 2014
Fire on the Waters, (August Micholson #3), May, 2015
Home Fires, (August Micholson #4), February, 2016

Here are a pair of stand-alone novels:
No Direction Home, (near-future science fiction), August, 2015
The End of Daze, (satirical eschatological fantasy), August, 2016

Dara Fox, my lovely wife, is serving as Managing Editor and Co-Publisher, and I have granted myself the title of Co-Publisher, too.

Please visit the website of MonstraCity Press often!

Japanese Fan Site for Fat White Vampire Blues

Fat White Vampire Blues, Japanese cover

Way, waaaaaaaaaay back in those olden days of 2003, Fat White Vampire Blues was published in a very smart-looking edition (trade paperback with slip cover and built-in bookmark) in Japan, in Japanese. I exchanged several emails with my Japanese translator, who was incredibly sweet and polite and wanted me to explain some New Orleans local lingo so he could properly translate it. I received in the mail a small advance payment (which I greatly appreciated) and a copy of the incredibly neat-o edition of my book (which I think I appreciated even more). Then I never heard another word from that Japanese publisher. They opted not to translate and print Bride of the Fat White Vampire, so I assumed the first Jules Duchon/Fat White Vampire book had dropped like a stone into the pond of the Japanese market and hardly created so much as a ripple.

Well, it must’ve created at least something of a ripple, because I just stumbled across a Japanese fan site dedicated to Fat White Vampire Blues. If you are a fan of Jules Duchon and the series, you should go to this link, even if you don’t read Japanese, because the accompanying photos are so perfectly selected. This Japanese fan has assembled a small portfolio of fat New Orleans culture. Below is a sample: an obese cab driver waiting for his next fare.

Fat cab driver from Japanese FWVB website

Now, if I could just get that Japanese publisher interested in the next Jules Duchon book, which features a trio of Japanese super-heroes (Fat White Vampire Otaku, due out next month, May, 2014), maybe I could be big in Japan!

Updates on My List of Upcoming Appearances

Unfortunately, I have had to severely truncate my list of upcoming appearances, due to my son Levi’s health situation. At present, I am unable to leave Dara, my wife, alone with Levi and his brothers for any extended period of time (such as the full weekend nearly all science fiction conventions take up). However, I expect to go to at least a day or two of CapClave 2014 in Rockville, Maryland in mid-October, since Rockville is only a ninety minute drive from my house and I can “commute.”

My updated list of planned and past convention and readings appearances can be found here.

Update to Upcoming Projects Page

My update to my Upcoming Projects page can be found here. You may be surprised to see how many books I have in the pipeline, including several that will be published later this year by MonstraCity Press. See my Upcoming Projects page for brief descriptions of books 4-6 of the Fat White Vampire series and books 2-4 of the August Micholson Chronicles series, along with descriptions of several stand-alone science fiction novels which I have written and the first three books of the Mount MonstraCity series for middle grade readers (each of which has been written). I hope you’re as excited as I am!

Fat White Vampire Otaku Next Up

Fat White - High Resolution - 100 Percent JPEG

Coming next from MonstraCity Press is the third in the Fat White Vampire/Jules Duchon series, Fat White Vampire Otaku. Just what is an otaku, you might ask? Otaku is Japanese for “fan boy” or “fan girl.” Jules and his vampire friends get to sample the blood of a trio of Japanese superheroes after the devastating Hurricane Antonia rolls through New Orleans. The effects of that blood (at least some of it) on Jules and his friends cause them to become big-time otaku of their visiting pals, the Japanese superheroes… before chaos erupts! And you know chaos HAS to erupt, because this is a Fat White Vampire book!

My wife Dara, my partner in MonstraCity Press, has been working hard on proofing and formatting this third book in the Fat White Vampire series. We are aiming for a late April to mid-May roll out of the book. The ebook versions will arrive first, to be followed by a trade paperback version. Watch this space, as I’ll keep you all informed as of our progress!

(Reality check: Dara and I have had our hands full with Levi’s health problems recently, so it is possible that the publication date of Fat White Vampire Otaku may be pushed back a month or two. I’ll continue to keep you all updated.)

A Historical Mystery Found in Graffiti

graphitti on Kiska

I discovered this seemingly weirdo incongruity while visiting an Internet site devoted to the Japanese occupation of the American island of Kiska during World War Two. This is the caption which accompanied this photo:

“Office of Japanese weather station occupied by Japanese, became U.S. officers’ headquarter; graffiti is written across wall behind desk.”

See if you spot the Bizarro-World nature of this graffiti which (we assume, based on the historical record) Japanese troops left behind on the wall of a weather station on the occupied island of Kiska in September, 1943.

Answer: the graffiti is in German, not Japanese! Was this a clever head-fake by the retreating Japanese, who left Kiska without firing a shot? Or were there actually German speakers on Kiska in 1943 – which would imply that the German High Command was considering using Kiska as a jumping-off point for an invasion of Alaska?

No; the latter doesn’t make any sense at all. It must be the former…

Here’s a link to the rest of a set of very memorable photographs of the island of Kiska, taken right after American forces liberated the place.

Would It Matter to You If You Had to Read a Vintage Ebook as an Emulation on the Web?

ELL's sad-mac after shipping mishap

Here’s a question I’d like to pose to those obsessive techies out there: would it matter at all to you if you had to read a vintage ebook as an emulation on the web, rather than read it on one of the machines it was originally built to be read upon? This is of at least a little interest to me, because (a) I have a collection of vintage laptops and so thus can be said to support maintaining the ecological niche of old electronics; and (b) a few months back, I picked up for my boys at Taco Bell a whole series of vintage Atari games (Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, etc.) which could only be played on a newish PC using the computer’s DVD drive, and I didn’t miss the experience of playing on the original hardware at all.

In support of “emulations are just fine, skip the original hardware,” here’s a story about the efforts of what I’ll call electronic literature archeologists to find and preserve some of the earliest examples of ebooks and books presented in an electronic-only format. As an illustration of the risks of relying too much on preserving the original-spec equipment to run the ebooks, here’s a cautionary tale of how the Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) For Advanced Inquiry into Born Digital Literature lost 4 of its 24 vintage MacIntosh computers in a shipping mishap, trying to get the computers to the January, 2014 convention of the Modern Language Association in Chicago. Life would’ve gone a whole lot smoother for the ELL folks if they’d only had to worry about transporting their software, not their hardware, too.

Here’s a description of the Electronic Literature Showcase which was held at the Library of Congress from April 3-5, 2013. The earliest example of an ebook in the program’s Featured Works dates to 1982, a work of “digital poetry” from Eduardo Kac entitled “Nao!”

cropped-ell-small2

For those of you who are interested in the Electronic Literature Lab For Advanced Inquiry into Born Digital Literature, here is their mission statement:

“The term ‘electronic literature’ applies to works that are created on a computer and meant to be read and experienced on a computer. [Dene] Grigar, a scholar and devotee of eLit, helped build a lab in which to preserve and enjoy works of vintage electronic literature. She helped create the Electronic Literature Lab at Washington State University Vancouver, which houses a collection of over 300 works of eLit — one of the largest collections in the world — and twenty eight vintage Macintosh computers on which to run them. Each computer has its appropriate OS version and, for browser-based works, appropriate browser versions.

“The ELL is never closed. Students with access rights can come and go at any time. Despite the age of the computers, they are all in good working condition. Grigar has someone who maintains the lab computers and keeps them tuned and running, and she uses a local computer-repair specialist for more serious technical issues.

“In addition to preserving the software disks on which the works reside, the ELL backs up and preserves their software in a repository. In some cases, the ELL keeps a copy of the software on the computer on which the work is played rather than go through the whole re-installation process; on the older computers that could require loading several disks. For CD-based works, they make an ISO image backup copy.

“The ELL has a searchable database to track all the works, the computers, operating systems and software requirements. If a user wants to view a work, he or she would search for it and, according to its requirements, locate which lab computer to use.”

Pretty interesting, huh? I’m happy to see that I’m not the only person out there who is fascinated by vintage electronics and the vintage software that runs on them.

My Friend, Lucius Shepard (August 21, 1943–March 18, 2014)

Lucius Shepard

Many obituaries, many still to be written the world over, will focus on Lucius Shepard’s tremendous body of work in the science fiction and fantasy field. Having known Lucius personally, I’d like to take a different tack. I’d like to focus on the Lucius who was such a good friend to my family and to me.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Lucius not too long after my first novel, Fat White Vampire Blues, hit the bookstores. I believe the first time Lucius and I spoke was at the World Fantasy Convention in Tempe, Arizona just before Halloween of 2004, when my first son, Levi, was less than a year old. Dara and I dressed Levi in a little gorilla costume for Halloween, and we walked from the hotel for some dinner with Lucius. When he found out who I was, Lucius said he’d read my book and told me to expect my protagonist, Jules Duchon, to receive fan mail.

A year later, at ArmadilloCon in Austin, Texas, Dara and I saw Lucius again. He mentioned that he’d be coming down to New Orleans to do research at the Tulane University library on William Walker for a book he was writing. Dara and I told him he should stay at our home on the West Bank of New Orleans and that I would be happy to drive him each day to the library and pick him up from the Algiers Ferry landing. While he was staying with us, one of my dining room chairs broke while he was sitting in it. Rather than getting indignant about how the incident might reflect on his great size and weight (Lucius was a big guy), he was incredibly apologetic about breaking my chair. To me, that’s Lucius in a nut shell… a gentle, polite giant, a sort of huge tame bear who had somehow wandered into our home.

This impression I had of him was only solidified later that evening. Dara’s and my cat, Snagglepuss, seemingly escaped the house when Lucius went outside for a cigarette break. Lucius and I spent an hour and a half driving through the neighborhood in search of that cat. I’ll never forget Lucius’s oddly high-pitched voice calling out, “Here, Snaggy! Here, Snaggy, Snaggy, Snaggy!” We later found the cat hiding in one of the rooms inside our home, so he’d never gotten out in the first place. But I’ll never forget Lucius’s very sincere concern. How strange it was, to have had one of the brightest stars in American literature sitting next to me in my little blue Ford Focus, calling out the window for a missing cat!

Lucius did something very special and very touching for me when my family and I were trapped outside our home for months in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Knowing that there was a good possibility that my entire collection of books had been destroyed by the hurricane’s floods (they weren’t, after all, since Dara and I were fortunate enough to live on the West Bank, in a separate flood zone from the rest of New Orleans—but Lucius didn’t know that, and neither did we at the time), and also knowing I had no reading material at the Florida condo where my family and I had taken shelter, Lucius shipped to Florida a carton of all of his books, signed and personalized. I have them on my shelves still.

Sad to say, Lucius and I did not stay in close touch after Hurricane Katrina. We never had any sort of a falling-out; we both just found ourselves too busy to do more than follow each other’s ups and downs on Facebook. I would send him “get well soon!” messages whenever I read that he had had an eye operation or that he was laid up with some sort of an illness (which happened distressingly frequently).

The last time we spoke was the Sunday morning before I suffered my own personal mental breakdown (due to issues completely unrelated to Lucius). A friend of Lucius’s, along with The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction’s editor, Gordon Van Gelder, had each emailed me and asked me if I would call Lucius at home so that he could practice his speech. He had suffered a stroke and needed to speak with friends he was comfortable with so that he could regain his speaking abilities. When I reached Lucius that morning, he was astoundingly upbeat about his prospects. I remember telling him, “Lucius, if I ever suffer anything like what you’re going through, I hope I can face it with half the bravery and fortitude you’re showing me this morning. All I can say is, you are a superhero!”

The very next day, I suffered physical symptoms related to my emotional breakdown which mirrored the impact of a stroke. A few weeks after I got out of the hospital, I sent Lucius a message on Facebook telling him about my experience and praising him as my role model; my experience of his bravery and fortitude had helped me get through that awful week in the mental hospital.

I don’t know whether Lucius ever received that message; I don’t know whether his stroke allowed him to check his Facebook messages. I also tried reaching him on the phone again, without success. But I hope he saw it.

Farewell, Lucius. As a friend, a writer, and a human being, you were a superhero to me!

Washington, DC Must Be Doing All Right

BMW x5 purple
…during this supposed nationwide economic downturn. This morning, while walking from my Virginia Railway Express station at L’Enfant Station to my office, an eight-block walk away, I saw two BMW x5 sport utility vehicles turn onto Avenue D simultaneously, a silver one in one turn lane and a purple one in the other turn lane. Right next to each other. I realize this isn’t as extraordinary as seeing, say, two Ferraris driving side by side. Still, what are the chances of seeing two such luxury sport utility vehicles side by side, apart from at a BMW dealership (or maybe Beverly Hills)? And mind you, I’m talking Southwest Washington, DC, a quadrant of governmental agency headquarters, not an enclave of multi-millionaire movie stars. Hey, I’m not cashing in during this Gold Rush. When I’m not riding the train, I’m driving a Kia Rondo.

Super-Sized Showa Era Sadness (the Way the Future Once Looked)

These retro-futuristic images from Japanese magazines struck a chord in me. They raised emotions in my breast (bemused sadness and nostalgic longing) which are probably the precise opposite of the emotions their artists, either in the halcyon days of pre-WW 2 Japan or in the wildly optimistic and forward-looking Japan of the early 1960s, intended to inspire when they originally created these images (I imagine the artists, if they had any goal at all aside from cashing a paycheck, wanted to elicit feelings of awe and happy anticipation at the marvels the future would bring).

I think the reason these images inspire bemused sadness and nostalgic longing in me is that they were originally published, not in the pages of Japanese science fiction magazines, but in the Japanese equivalent of our American magazine Popular Mechanics, which meant that these gigantic, awe-inspiring machines were fanciful or fantastical versions of machines which were thought to be (someday) practical and buildable. Suffice to say, Japan never saw propeller driven trains like these envisioned in 1936 (this one’s my favorite in this little selection; just take a gander at those fabulous passengers you can see through the windows!):

Japanese propeller trains from 1936

Or a super ocean liner which, when in distress, could launch self-contained life boat cruisers from a sea-level launching platform (I wonder whether or not the artist had any notion that just a few years after he would pen this drawing, the U.S. submarine fleet would be sending the majority of the Japanese merchant fleet to the bottom of the Pacific; probably not):

Japanese futuristic ocean liner launching life boats in 1936

Or an Arctic exploration vehicle which carries its own biplane (and all with US markings, too, a rather remarkable detail from a drawing published in a late 1930s Japanese popular magazine):

Japanese pre-war US Arctic exploration vehicle

Or this pre-war era car riding on super-sized tires or these boats floating on similarly giant-sized water-propulsion treads:

Japanse futuristic vehicles from 1936

Or these bicycle-like human-powered aircraft from 1965:

Japanese human-powered aircraft from 1965

On the other hand, Japan has witnessed magnetic levitation trains, perhaps not quite as outrageous as this one from 1964, though:

Japanese mag-lev train from 1964 Shonen Magazine

What flittered through my brain as I looked at these images (brought to us by those good folks at the Dark Roasted Blend website, which specializes in daily sharings of retro-futuristic images from around the world) is that the artists who drew them with such optimistic hopes in their souls have either been dead and buried for years or now reside in Japanese nursing homes, and the futuristic vehicles with which they graced the covers and interiors of popular Japanese mechanics magazines either never came to fruition or (like the magnetic levitation train) ended up being super-expensive disappointments.

Oh, well… they’re still marvelous to look at, aren’t they?

Bad Trip

sponge

This past week, I discovered something new. It is possible to have TOO MUCH serotonin in your system at one time.

YES, you read that right: TOO MUCH, as well as too little serotonin causes a problem (maybe this isn’t news to you, but it was news to me).

Turns out my problem was related to the fact that I’m taking two medications at the same time (among other), both of which have the effect of raising one’s serotonin (one is an anti-depressant, the other is a new [to me] anti-anxiety drug). I just started taking this new [to me] anti-anxiety drug last week (it replaced a different anti-anxiety drug, which I wanted to stop taking because it tends to be addictive over time, unlike the new one), on last Thursday (a week ago yesterday). Sunday, for those of you who read my blog regularly, I noticed a new “blip” on my perceptual radar: I couldn’t watch my son Asher play Minecraft for more than a few minutes without getting motion sickness.

Tuesday, I began experiencing something else somewhat new: I noticed how “spongy” my work keyboard felt. And how “spongy” my laptop’s keyboard felt.

By Wednesday morning (I had fortuitously taken the day off from work to babysit Levi), EVERYTHING felt a little “spongy.” “Spongy” was the word of the day.

But then the effect started to increase. And that’s when I began freaking out. Everything felt like it was at a remove; if I heard a song, I couldn’t get it out of my head (and I recalled every single lyric to David Bowie’s “A Space Oddity” as soon as I thought of the title of that song, while searching for a proper metaphor for what I was feeling).

I decided to take a shower. After my shower, I found myself a much cleaner but still “spongy” person; the prickles of water had not banished my weird sensations.

That’s when I REALLY began freaking out. But it was a panic attack unlike any I’d experienced before. Because even though the symptoms were causing me to have the panic attack (psychologically), those same symptoms (off too much serotonin in my system) were preventing the physical symptoms normally set off by a panic attack — i.e.: I wasn’t experiencing any speeding up of my heart rate, nor sweating, nor increased respiration, nor uneasiness or discomfort within my stomach and bowels. I knew I was having a panic attack, but I couldn’t feel myself having one.

Let me tell you, that is one bizarre set of sensations.

Thank the heavens above, I was able to get a fifteen minute appointment with my psychiatric nurse later that afternoon (I just had to hold it together until my wife could drive me to the appointment, since I sure as heck wasn’t going to try driving myself). I described what I was feeling, and he said, “Sounds like too much serotonin in your system all at once. Take a break from swallowing the XXXXX pills and see if your symptoms recede by late tonight.”

Yes, the symptoms did recede by late that night (but it was kind of hellish getting there). (Because on the way to “normal,” I experienced two crazy-ass nightmares… I remember the second one… I was a dead body that folks just wouldn’t leave buried… they kept picking me up and doing stuff with me…)

So now I’ve been off XXXX for nearly two days. I’m not feeling nearly as dizzy/loopy/”spongy.”

But it is definitely a matter of degree. Although it’s been a couple of days since a swallowed an XXXX pill, I’m still noticing how darn “spongy” this keyboard feels…

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